YORKTOWN, N.Y. – The Yorktown Central School District will proceed with a hybrid model of in-person and remote learning for the 2020-21 school year, Dr. Ron Hattar, superintendent of schools, announced Monday night.
“The best place for students to learn is in school. We wholeheartedly believe that,” Hattar told the school community in a live YouTube video. “We would not be reopening schools if we do not believe we couldn’t do so safely.”
Yorktown, which opens for instruction on Tuesday, Sept. 8, will also offer students a fully remote learning option. For logistical reasons, students must commit by Aug. 14 for a full semester.
“We are going to be building new classes based on the students who are going into a full remote model,” Hattar said. “We will be staffing accordingly. It is not easy for a school district to pivot and offer two distinct models simultaneously.”
Should there be a positive COVID-19 test or a clinically diagnosed case, that student’s classroom (at the elementary level) would be quarantined for two weeks. If there are cases in multiple classrooms, the entire school would close.
It’s not as cut-and-dried in the middle and high schools, where students are not in one classroom all day. Nevertheless, Hattar said, “Our district will take a very aggressive stance.”
COVID-19 tests can sometimes take up to two weeks to produce results, which is why the district will rely on its medical director to clinically diagnose cases.
“If our medical director deems that this is a clinically positive case with absentee results, we would consider that COVID test positive,” Hattar said.
Students will have two daily health screenings: one at home and one at the school, where they will have their temperature checked. A temperature of 100.0 will be considered a fever.
To comply with distancing guidelines, Yorktown is splitting its 3,500-plus student body into two groups: Group A will be in class Tuesday/Thursday and Group B will be in class Wednesday/Friday. The groups will rotate on Mondays. They will learn remotely on the days they are not in school.
Yorktown is going with an ABAB model as opposed to an AABB model so students are not separated from their teachers for too long.
“If I go home on a Wednesday, I don’t see my teacher again until Tuesday,” Hattar said. “I believe, we believe, that’s a really long stretch to go without seeing your teacher.”
Group A students are those whose last names begin with the letters A-L; Group B, M-Z. Students cannot change groups, Hattar said.
“It’s not a perfect science,” the superintendent said. “For many families, the older sibling is the child care plan for the younger sibling, so we wanted to have siblings attend school on the same day.”
Water fountains will be shut off, but bottled water stations will remain active. The district will also bring in between eight and 10 portable sinks per school to promote hand-washing. Hand sanitizer will be available throughout school buildings. Barriers will be installed in offices and the buildings will be scrubbed. Lunch will likely be held in classrooms.
Classrooms will mostly be limited to 12-15 students (some can accommodate more; some, less). Six feet of space between students and teachers will be maintained in all classes except for physical education and band/chorus, where 12 feet of space is required.
Students and staff must wear masks throughout the day, in classrooms and hallways, except when eating or drinking.
“Hand-washing, face masks and social distancing are the three really, really important things that we need to do as a school district to provide the safest and healthiest atmosphere,” Hattar said.
Sean Kennedy, president of the Yorktown Congress of Teachers, said about 50 percent of teachers polled statewide are either uncomfortable or unwilling to return to schools. Additionally, about 80 percent of teachers say health and safety should be the priority with any reopening plan. Kennedy said there are valid reasons to believe that schools cannot reopen safely.
“The very nature of kids is they’re social,” Kennedy said. “They want to talk. They want to high five each other. It’s going to be very hard to break those habits.”
He also noted that school buildings are traditionally decades old and many do not have modern air filtration systems.
“There is a high level of anxiety that teachers have,” Kennedy said. “Not just teachers, but also parents. I think people are nervous, and rightfully so.”
Most teachers are over 40 and some have preexisting conditions, Kennedy said. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers guidelines on preexisting conditions, but for the most part, teachers interested in opting out of in-person learning will be considered on a case-by-case basis.
Kennedy complimented the district’s thoroughness, which involved bringing in an engineering firm to determine classroom capacities. However, he said, no plan is perfect.
“I would probably say that every plan just has a different set of problems. So, that’s been the most frustrating thing,” Kennedy said. “Every parent has a different set of circumstances also. Some are single parents. Some are working parent families. You’re never going to able to placate everybody.”
The focus for in-person instruction will be ELA (English, language, arts) and math, Hattar said. Remote instruction is still being ironed out, as are child care options for remote learners.
The plan is available at yorktown.org/home/reopening.